Somebody create this Facebook browser plugin and make us all better people

Checking Facebook mindlessly and compulsively is something I do on occasion, typically when suffering from screens burnout. Here’s how to solve this issue:

Install a browser extension that will automatically post this status for you whenever you visit Facebook.com:

“WHAT AM I DOING HERE; IT’S BEEN [X TIME] SINCE I WAS HERE LAST”

That would be the premium version. The free version would Like the 50 most recent photos of your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend if you log on within 4 hours of your last visit.

I am confident that this app would make money.

MLB Turns Players Into Other Players In Eldritch Trade Deadline Ritual

Detroit, MI – Major League Baseball’s annual Trade Deadline occurred last week, an arcane ritual wherein teams destroy players and transform them into other players through twisted sorceries abhorrent to God and nature. Analysts said it was one of the most exciting and abominable deadlines in years.

The biggest act of dark magic was conducted by the Detroit Tigers, who turned two baseball players into a David Price. Baseball seers at ESPN and Fangraphs thought it would take the souls and viscera of no fewer than three baseball players to create a David Price.

Detroit Tigers necromancer Dave Dombrowski (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) / AP

Detroit Tigers general managing necromancer Dave Dombrowski (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) / AP

“Our goal is the World Series this year,” said Tigers GM and necromancer Dave Dombrowski. “It’s hard to part with guys who’ve been a big part of our success here. But when you get the chance to get a David Price or a Jon Lester, you gotta pull the trigger and whet the bloodstone.”

A sellout Tigers crowd, adorned in traditional Trade Deadline giveaway crimson cloaks, gave center fielder Austin Jackson a standing ovation when he was pulled during the 7th inning. Cameras caught Jackson hugging teammates in the dugout, and on-field mics caught his screams as he was boiled down into fetid ichor in the clubhouse Transaction Nexus in preparation for the creation of a David Price. Continue reading

The highest praise of my career to date

The Internet is a strange place. The Wandering Bus urban legend I wrote in 2011 has apparently taken root online and begun the creeping, Catholic saint-like process of transforming into a real urban legend.

I probably should have guessed, since that post is regularly one of the top-performing posts on my blog (“top-performing” be very relative). But thank you to Philebrity for hearing about this story, being intrigued, doing some sleuthing, and letting me know.

Even better, thank you for calling me a “writer/comic/communications manager” with “an almost Haruki Murakami-esque modern fabulist style.” THANK YOU. SOMEBODY gets it. That’s all I’ve ever been going for. Should I ever have need of a dust jacket, that’s going on there no matter how inappropriate.

When I wrote for The Onion, I had the voyeuristic experience of reading the comment section on the GOOMF videos. This is a stronger feeling, perhaps because unlike The Onion, my name is on this one. Or was – it’s been stripped out. So now it feels like someone else is retelling your campfire story, and you’re sitting around the fire keeping quiet.

The comment section on which I'm lurking (although I did Like it). Click to read.

The comment section on which I’m lurking (although I did Like it).

Claiming your writing credits are important, but I’m not going to lay claim to this anywhere. If you come across this blog post and want to debunk the legend, go for it. But frankly, I’d be pretty proud of helping germinate an urban legend of a wandering SEPTA bus picking up lost souls in need of destination-less departures.

UPDATE: I was feeling all benevolent ‘n shit about my donation to our cultural medium until I actually followed the links in the Philebrity article. Turns out there’s a Tumblr I’ve never heard of but apparently a lot of other people have. By my standards (see above about relative top performance) 4,900 anythings is a lot. Damn. Now I know how Kris Straub feels about content attribution.

If I had a pair of eyeballs for all of those notes

If I had a pair of eyeballs for all of those notes, I’d be arrested SUPER fast and questioned insistently.

Smartphones are the New Rock and Roll

An earlier generation fretted about rock and roll, this explosion of confrontational music through which a young generation expressed themselves and related to one another. It scared many of their progenitors, who read in those tea leaves the demise of decent behavior and clear thinking.

Today I feel myself bemoaning the people I see crossing the street, their eyes glue to their phones. I fear that the constant mental stimuli provided by smartphones physically changes people’s brains in detrimental ways. And I hear a similar anxiety shared by many people my age (and older).

I wonder if smartphones are the new rock ‘n roll, threatening to one generation but adopted so wholesale by another, and deployed so thoroughly, that subsequent generations will wonder what all the fuss was about. “Really, Grandpop freaked out over people checking screens?” says the teenager in 2041. “Imagine what he’d think about Google Brain!”

These Artists Did Great Work in 2013

It’s late in January to be making a 2013 list, but I want to recognize the art which resonated with me in the past year.

I recently started a book club, because I realized that I get more out of a book if I can talk about it with someone. In a similar spirit, I want to list the art I loved (and can remember) from the past year. Perhaps if I list it, and explain why, I’ll wring a little more enjoyment out of the discarded rinds. I also list them to encourage anyone reading this to explore these artists. They made my year special, and most of these pieces of art did not expire last year.

Lastly, reminding myself of all the wonderful art which I took in last year will, I hope, inspire me to make more of my own in the year to come.

My InDesign skills could use some work

A collection of the art I loved this last year

Art Which Kicked Ass In 2013 – In Philadelphia and Beyond

Listed in no particular order. If you’re looking for something special to check out in 2014, look below.

Visual Art

  • Broodhollow – a web comic by Kris Straub. A cheerfully-illustrated gothic web comic. I love the visual style and the world Straub’s creating. There’s also something resonant and cohesive to the madness depicted here, which I think springs from the fact that it’s a very personal story for the author. 
  • Alex Cohen – painter. I have many friends who are artists, and I look for ways to support them. I’ve always wanted to buy one of Cohen’s paintings, and this year I finally did.

Live Theater

  • The Berserker Residents – The Talk Back, The Jersey Devil. Maybe the funniest theater group in Philly. Saw two of their shows and got to know the three guys a bit as people this year. I am envious of their productivity and talent.
  • Pig Iron APT class – class shows. It is hard to describe the contact high one gets from hanging out with 16 talented artists who have all just doubled down on making theater a central part of their lives. The class shows I saw were among the best theater I’ve seen in Philly, period, and it makes me very excited to see what these actors and artists create going forward.
  • The Philly Fringe Festival. Remains my favorite time of the year in Philly.

Books and the Written Word

  • George Saunders – Tenth of December. I saw him speak at the Free Library. As if he wasn’t already a once-in-a-lifetime writer, he’s also a very engaging speaker and reader. I think I’ll look back and think, “Oh yeah, I remember when George Saunders was getting big” the way we talk about watching prime LeBron James or Rafael Nadal.
  • Annie Dillard – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I’ve never read a book like this before. It’s not a novel, it’s not a memoir, it’s something else. This book made me want to take a walk in the woods, to live by a creek for a year, and to slow down and see the world with eyes as unfiltered as I can make them. I’ve never read a book before that calmed my mind while I read it.
  • Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian. The opposite of calming. The Judge. Oh my fucking lord. The Judge.
  • NaNoWriMo. This experience warrants its own blog post.

Movies and Television

  • Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The best movie I saw all year. The actors looked like they were having a blast making the movie, and yet that didn’t detract from the Shakespeare. I remember this film giving me a burning desire to get a bunch of talented friends together in a house, stock it with alcohol and camera equipment, and just make something.
  • StripSearch – from Penny-Arcade. I don’t watch TV and I loathe reality TV. But I’ve never obsessively watched a television show like I watched this. Watching this show taught me several things. It taught me the seductive power of watching a show with someone else. While it was on, I was pestering my friends, asking them to watch it so we could talk about it together. It also inspired me to work harder on my writing. Which is a pretty impressive feat from a purportedly piece of visual entertainment. It also stoked my persistent desire to collaborate with a visual artist on something. Maybe some day… 

Music

  • Typhoon – White Lighter. The most personally meaningful album to me since college. I’ve also never had the experience of recommending music to friends and see that music take deep root. Typically the recommendations flow the other way. Typhoon came to Philly several years ago and played at the North Star Bar. In October they returned and played Johnny Brenda’s. In March they will play Union Transfer. I knew about them years ago. Mom, Dad, I’m finally a real hipster!
  • Bosley – live show at Connie’s Ric Rac. If Bosley isn’t huge within a year, there’s been a gross miscarriage of popular taste. Another band which I was able to introduce a friend to, and have that friend be so taken that he bought a CD at the show and later declared that CD to be the soundtrack to his life for the subsequent month.
  • Sigur Ros – live concert at the Mann Center. Simply beautiful.
  • Live music in New Orleans. Went to NOLA for the second time in my life. Remains a unique experience.
  • DJ SnKpaK – best dance party. A friend organized a Sunday night dance party at Silk City, and this DJ spun. I haven’t managed to see her since, but the strength of that one night got me to look her name up and keep her in mind. Sometimes a DJ just hits the right spot for one’s dancing style, and that night did it.

Games

  • Dominion, 7 Wonders, Great Dalmuti. I love board and card games and these games brought me a lot of joy this year. Great Dalmuti, in particular, is the best card game I’ve ever discovered for casual time with friends. It’s strategic enough to be interesting, but casual enough that it won’t turn off people who “don’t play games.” You can also play for 20 minutes or 60, add or subtract players, it all works.
  • Minecraft. I never thought a video game could make planting trees, growing wheat, and building stairs so exciting.
  • Portal 2. Do you have a friend in another city? Play Portal 2 with them. It’s the most enjoyable, friendship-reinforcing experience I can think of when living 1,000 miles apart. That’s what I did.

Writing this felt like flipping back through old photos. It was a valuable exercise for me, and I’d encourage you to try it. And if you check out any of the above and like it, let me know.

Majestic Athletic Knows Baseball Jerseys, Has Never Watched a Baseball Game

Majestic supplies the official uniform of Major League Baseball. You’d think they could at least get a copywriter who has ever seen a baseball game before.

Image

If it happened in baseball, Majestic wasn’t watching

From the product page for the $99.95 Yasiel Puig Los Angeles Dodgers #66 Majestic Replica Jersey – White:

Description

There’s no doubting your Dodgers enthusiasm! Send out your cheers for Yasiel Puig as he makes another exciting play for Los Angeles in this replica Player Jersey from Majestic. It features a tackle twill team name across the chest, along with your favorite player’s name and number on the back. Perfect for any fan who wants to be in the middle of all the L.A. action, this jersey provides the ultimate display of team pride for a die-hard MLB buff!

Meanwhile, from the page of the $99.95 Hyun-Jin Ryu Los Angeles Dodgers #99 Majestic Replica Jersey – White:

Description

There’s no doubting your Dodgers enthusiasm! Send out your cheers for Hyun-Jin Ryu as he makes another exciting play for Los Angeles in this replica Player Jersey from Majestic. It features a tackle twill team name across the chest, along with your favorite player’s name and number on the back. Perfect for any fan who wants to be in the middle of all the L.A. action, this jersey provides the ultimate display of team pride for a die-hard MLB buff!

You can see the merge fields from a mile away. Let’s examine the original code:

Description

There’s no doubting your [*TEAMNAME*] enthusiasm! Send out [*HAPPYAMERICAN1*] for [*PLAYERFNAME*] as he makes another exciting play for [*CITY*] in this [*PRODUCTTITLE_2*] from [*WHOSBITCHAREYOU*]. It features a [*FIELD_12*] across the [*FIELD_32*] along with your favorite player’s name and number on the [*FIELD_3*]. Perfect for any [*AMERICANSPORTSFANLINGO_2*] who wants to be in the middle of all the [*CITY*], this [*PRODUCTTITLE_4*] provides the ultimate display of team pride for a [*BRUCEWILLIS_3*] [*ACCOUNT:PROFESSIONAL_ATHLETICS_CONFEDERACY_NAME*] buff!

So repetitious product descriptions, sure. But except for being grammatically correct, it reads like spam. “Send out your cheers?” Hoping for another “exciting play for Los Angeles” from pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu? A human chose those expressions. And the people who come to mind who want to be “in the middle of all the L.A. action” are either aspiring actors, or those goons who have been getting into knife fights with Giants fans.

Majestic, your number one source of replica clothing items simulating attire worn by professional sporting business venture employees authentic jerseys for the emotionally invested unpaid supporter of professional sporting business venture die hard fan in your innumerable but finite moments of time put in sequence and given meaning through the limited interpretation of a lone actor operating from a fixed perspective life!

Of course, Majestic is also selling a “Tampa Bay Rays 1970s Replica Jersey” so maybe they’re in on the joke after all.

I Did National Novel Writing Month and All I Got Was This Meaningful Experience

This November was my second attempt at National Novel Writing Month. The gist is to write 50,000 words in November. I tried it last year and wrote about 23,000 words (~500 words = 1 page), which felt like an accomplishment. And it was. Then I let that writing sit fallow for the whole year while life preoccupied me in other ways. This year I decided to try it again, for three main reasons:

  • I wish I wrote more than I do, and this is a discrete, external motivational structure in which to do so.
  • I’ve been kicking around for years a website or program idea to help people like me write novels. Fully participating in NaNoWriMo seemed like good research.
  • I think about discipline and focus a lot, and what those mean in our overstimulated digital age. It seemed impossible to write 50,000 words in a month without learning something about those two things.

My plan of attack involved waking up at 6:15 and writing for 60-90 minutes before work, and then some longer writing sessions on weekends. I arrived on Saturday, November 30th having written about 39,000 words. So I sat down at 10 AM and, with some breaks for food and a shower, stared at my laptop screen for ten hours. At a little after 8 PM, shortly before friends were due over to play board games, I checked my word count for the 800th time that day and saw it read 50,124. I felt like a literary John Henry, although instead of dying I just got a little drunk, a little loopy, and lost badly at 7 Wonders and The Great Dalmuti.

If you had to pick one line that represented an "oh fuck" moment, which line would that be? Take your time, now...

If you had to pick one line that represented an “oh fuck” moment, which line would that be? Take your time, now…

What follows are some reflections on how this month went for me. I’m writing with half an eye towards an audience, but unlike most of what is on this blog, this is not an entirely outward-facing piece of writing. Forewarned. That said, I think my experience is valuable to anyone who aspires to write, who is curious about NaNoWriMo, or who is interested (as I am) in peeking under the hood of others’ passions and projects.

One – Discipline and the enervation of day jobs
I typically maintain a reticent attitude about my writing. I will express to friends and acquaintances a generalized interest in creative writing, but aside from what I’ve written for The Onion and other websites, I don’t go out of my way to talk about it. Which upon reflection seems strange, considering that I am a firm believer in the principle that telling someone you will do something makes you far more likely to do it.

This November I did not share my progress on Facebook (mostly because of my feelings about Facebook). But what I did do was tell my friends that I was getting up before work to write. And I was surprised at how much that seemed to impress them, more so than my saying my goal was 50,000 words, or I wrote for X hours on Saturday. And their respect in turn encouraged me to keep doing it.

I think this was the case for two reasons. First, the “artist fitting creation into the cracks around his day job” is a well-known and admirable narrative. Second, I think we (read: people like me) respond positively to displays of discipline, especially when they fly in the face of the narrative of “I work a lot and am therefore tired when I’m not at work.” The actual project is immaterial. Going to the gym before work, or visiting one’s sick grandmother before work, or even going to the grocery store before work. Each shows that we can do more if we want to and we need not give in to the indulgent weariness (typically compounded by drinking) which our day jobs propagate, a weariness that in turn gives us cover for bailing on events or projects and just going home to watch TV. (Note: some people have legit exhausting jobs. I am not one of them.)

Two – A reminder of the power of the book
I spent a good deal of time in November reading “The Gone Away World” by Nick Harkaway. I read it nearly every day, sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for 90. I read it because it was supremely entertaining (if not always successful in what it set out to accomplish), and because I have joined a book club and deadlines, people. The book is 500 pages, and I read it in less than 3 weeks. I haven’t read a book that fast in years, and I was utterly absorbed.

Which was fan-fucking-tastic. I had forgotten how your imagination can absorb a good novel and the seep it back out during your walking-around time, like those bulbs that slowly water your houseplants, only for your mind. I can’t believe I forgot this feeling, either. Which brought me back to the genesis of my desire to write in the first place: reading books as a child which made me want to do that too, to have done that, and to make others feel the way Jack London, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Mark Twain made me feel.

So reading enthusiastically in parallel with NaNoWriMo was a great move. And surprise surprise, it affirms one of the near-universal bits of advice writers give to wanna-be writers: read, my chickadees! Read loud and hard. (Incidentally, I worried that I would read “The Gone Away World” for writerly tips on how to structure a novel, and not be able to enjoy it as an un-agenda’d reader. Turns out I could do both.)

Three – Inspirational quotes from basketball players

Patrick Ewing, writing coach

Patrick Ewing is my novel’s power animal

Two quotes that frequently came to mind during the month. I don’t know who said them, but I’ve heard them attributed to very tall basketball players:

  • “Being a professional means doing what you love to do even on the days you don’t feel like doing it.” ~Patrick Ewing(?!?!)
  • “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” ~Kevin Durant (and a thousand other people, I’m sure)

Four – Discovering all that writerly advise on my own
I seek out authors whom I admire talking about their craft and process. I want role models and schematics for this mysterious and lonesome art. As I moved through November, I was surprised by how many pieces of their advice I discovered on my own:

  • Thinking about when to write diminishes your writing. I discovered that planning and sticking to a schedule for when I would write left more mental energy for the writing. Spending lots of time thinking about how or when I’ll fit in my writing feels like writing, but isn’t. And it takes mental bandwidth that could be spent writing.
  • Find the time of day that works for you and write then. I discovered that writing in the morning, after breakfast and with a cup of coffee, was my best time. At the end of the day, too much flotsam had piled up in my brain. Learning this feels like I now know something important about myself I didn’t know in October.
  • Writing is infinitely easier if you make it a habit. It’s like running – it takes weeks to get into shape, and days to fall out of shape. But running while in shape is way more pleasant than running while out of shape.
  • One of the joys of writing is discovering things you did not plan. Countless times doing improv comedy, I’ve discovered something in a scene neither I nor my scene partner planned or foresaw. “Oh, you’re my dog AND my doctor!?!? *blackout*” But that had never happened to me in writing until this month, when a relationship between two characters, and a big plot point, and some other details just came out unexpectedly as I wrote. I believe that happened because I was writing often enough for my brain to become accustomed to thinking in that way, which allowed for these discoveries. It was one of the highlights of the month.
  • Thinking like a writer out in the world is a thing. And it doesn’t mean wearing jackets with elbow patches or attending FanFicCon. Spending so much time in that headspace, I discovered that I was framing experiences in terms of their application to writing. Moments I encountered in life began to pop with narrative potential. The only other time my brain has worked this way was when I first started writing for The Onion, and I tried to condense everything I experienced into a pithy headline. “You’re waiting for an elevator. How is this funny? This is funny. Elevators are funny. Maybe…Area Man Thinks Elevator Is Lazy. No. Area Man Suspects Elevator Hates Him. Perfect!” That was an exhausting time – this was far more enjoyable.

Five – The power of company
The person I talk with about writing more than anyone is my friend Kat. We became friends over our mutual interest in creative writing, and I learned about NaNoWriMo last year from her. She was a source of motivation this month, and I owe her my gratitude.

Like any cult member worth his tinfoil fedora, I in turn tried to get my friends involved. Four of my friends signed up on the NaNoWriMo website, but only one really went for it. However, he really went for it. Tim is one of the few friends from high school with whom I’m still in good contact. (Despite not living anywhere near each other, we have drifted on similar winds during our formative twenties, such that we still have much in common and friendship comes easily. It’s pretty cool.) He’s also not above some good-natured competition, and seeing his word count rise like lava on my heels kept me going. He finished several hours before I did on that final Saturday, and the way our digital correspondence shifted in the last few days from “Fuck you and your impressive word count” to “C’mon buddy, power through” was both reflexive and terrific.

There’s nothing that a little good-natured smack talk won’t improve.

So.
Lastly, the most resonant lesson from this month is the grave knowledge that I can do this, because I did it. And now there’s no going back to life pre-lesson-learned. I can write 25 pages in a day. So why can’t I write I write 200 in three months? “You’ve always wanted to write a novel, and now you have proof you can do it.” *Cue Inception noiseI have the discipline to do something hard, if I want to do it and put myself in a position to succeed (and I have the discipline to put myself in a position to succeed. Look – recursive self-discipline!).